It is going to happen to you. The uninterrupted flow of new, original work and ideas is going to dry up. And when it does, it’s going to hurt – mostly your ego, but it will hurt nonetheless especially if you make your living creating.
The good news is that these episodes are only temporary, even if they don’t seem temporary at the time. The bad news is that you don’t know when they are going to end. Tomorrow? Next week? Next Year? Waiting for new ideas and inspiration to return is agonizing. Trying to force something to happen is fruitless. It’s a frustrating, lonely place to be for a creative professional.
This has happened to me a few times during my photography career, with some episodes more severe than others. Either I was inexplicably no longer inspired by the driving force of my work – nature, wilderness, wild places and the wild creature that inhabit them – or the inspiration was still there, but I couldn’t find any new or original way to express it. Since emotion and establishing emotional bonds to my subject are critical, the former concern is much more debilitating than the latter.
I’ve found that the best way to combat these creative slumps is to try something completely new and different. The key is to do something – create something. The very act of creating is often what primes the pump and gets the flow of new ideas and concepts moving again.
So what if photographing people or whitewater sports is not “what I do.” The above image is the product of a hike I made down North Carolina’s Green River Gorge in the winter of 2007. I almost didn’t bring my camera on this trip. I was, after all, a nature and landscape photographer and the light was bad, there was no snow on the ground, the trees were bare, with the landscape a mosaic of uninspiring browns and grays. I was also in the middle of one of those creative slumps and didn’t feel very productive or creative anyway.
But as I watched and photographed the kayakers barrel down Gorilla, an infamous set of “rapids” that punctuates this treacherous stretch of whitewater, I was creating. I was having fun and problem solving too. For example, it was relatively dark in the shaded areas of the river, yet I needed fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. I experimented with high ISOs, slower shutter speeds and panning, slower shutter speeds without panning, etc. Nothing serious, nothing expected of me, no pressure to create or to do anything. I was just having fun and experimenting with my camera, not unlike my formative years when I was first learning photography.
Consequently, this experience got me excited about trying this new stuff on my nature and landscape images as well. Without even thinking about it, the slump was over and it ushered in one of the most productive and creative periods of my professional life. All it took was trying something new and starting to create once again. Just create.
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